Mount Freeling and its Police Station
The area around Mount Freeling was taken up on Pastoral Lease no 613a by the Jacobs Brothers in 1858. Four years later, Samuel and Robert Stuckey of the Mulligan run acquired, in partnership with Thomas Elder, Umberatana, Burt's Hill, Mount Freeling, Fortress Hill and some other smaller properties. They named the whole of the area Umberatana. They were not the only ones interested in the area. There were several prospectors looking for mineral deposits as well. Few of them were able to stake a successful claim, whereas others failed to live up to the conditions required and as a result forfeited their claim. One of them was William Carr whose claim, number 1817 near Mount Freeling, was forfeited on 9 June 1864.
Progress in the north was severely retarded during the early 1860s when a long drought devastated the area which eventually gave rise to Goyder's Line of rainfall. Pastoralists lost many thousands of sheep and cattle and a number of men lost their life because of lack of water or sunstroke, as did Thomas Johnston who died of sunstroke near Mt Freeling on 8 January 1864, leaving a wife and 2 children to morn his death.
Because of the drought Aborigines more and more took to sheep or cattle stealing and protecting their water holes. Pastoralist naturally wanted police protection from these and other crimes. Where to build a police station was a problem as each pastoralist wanted it on or near his property. In the end Inspector Roe selected a spot near Mt Freeling, although some had wanted it at Mount Fitton or Hamilton Creek. As early as December 1868 Henry D. Ryan had expressed his willingness to build a station for £350.
In 1866 3 Police Troopers, among them George Curnow, and 4 horses were stationed at the Mount Freeling Police Station, on the main track between Umberatana and Blanchewater stations. For the next two years there were only 2 troopers with a very much increased workload. In 1867 J.P. Buttfield, Sub Protector of Aborigines, called in to regulate the distribution of blankets and other items to the Aborigines. In September 1868 it was Inspector Robert Read from Auburn who called in to see for himself how they were settling in.
In 1869 Troopers Curnow and Whitbread were stationed at Freeling. Their accommodation and living conditions were most miserable for some time as the difficulty of building a station during the drought had prevented the government from undertaking this task. For a while troopers Whitbread, Powell and Raymond lived in a tent and later in a hut belonging to Thomas Elder. They had an extensive area to patrol and were often away from the station for weeks at a time.
When on patrol they had to sleep under the stars or in shearers quarters as there were no places of accommodation, except in Blinman. This lack of accommodation was also a main problem at Mount Freeling police station where often swagmen and horsemen would call in on their way north looking for work. They frequently wished to buy flour or meat which the troopers refused to sell. They would rather give it away. There were also the frequent visitors from the neighbourhood, calling in for their mail or posting letters.
On 21 February 1869 Whitbread left for Kopperamanna to collect Agricultural Returns. This round trip took him only two weeks. On 17 June Whitbread reported the hut robbing and sheep stealing at Mount Fitton. He dispatched troopers Carr and Powell to investigate. In August of the same year he was at Umberatana to explain to the recently arrived Afghans the nature of arrest if not living according to the South Australian law. Later that month he was instructed to go to Blinman to attend the police court and act as interpreter in the case of Elder & Co. vs Afghans.
Although stationed in sparsely populated areas, it did not mean that the troopers had no contact with other parts of the colony. Even before the Overland Telegraph was in use they had their regular newspapers and mail from Adelaide. They were well informed and knew what was going on both in Adelaide and the Flinders Ranges. Naturally news was also brought by all the visitors to the station, some from as far away as Adelaide.
In August 1869 the troopers were instructed to keep a list of names of all those who called at the station, particularly those who stayed the night. Their returns for the month of October included 24 names including Mr and Mrs Dean from Adelaide on their way to Manuwalkaninna. Another regular caller was Wallace Bruce, the mail boy. The November list included Patrick Long from Umberatana and J. Speckman from Hamilton Creek. During December there were, among others, H.D. Ryan from Edeowie, W. Spicer from Yaralina and J.H. Mules from Blanchewater to complain about Aborigines robbing his huts.
The best news for the troopers at the end of 1869 was that the overseer of Umberatana had contracted a builder to complete the premises occupied by the police and that the work was finished. It was also at this time that Whitbread was promoted to Police trooper second class. During February of 1870 as many as 66 visitors stayed the night. Among them was P. Long from Umberatana, R.J. Rowe from Adelaide with sheep for Mt Nor'West, J. Kirwan from Wilpena, W. Spicer from Yaralina, E. Edwards from Blinman and A. Frost, J.Young and A Yates, all three from Kopperamanna on their way to Port Augusta.
In February 1870 Whitbread could report that the house, which had been bought from Elder & Co, was completely finished and that George Curnow had withdrawn his application for a transfer to the Northern Territory. Both of them had put up a substantial amount of their own money to furnish their accommodation. That same month there were numerous visitors at the station. They came from far and near from such places as Paralana, Umberatana, Wilpena, Blinman, Yaralina, Kopperamanna and Yudanamutana.
By the end of 1870 the station finally received some badly needed supplies when on 29 November it was recorded that a bullock team had arrived with 30 sets of horse shoes and nails, 200 cartridges and caps and other requisites. In 1870 Mount Freeling had also become an official post office which meant even more visitors. Luckily for historians all troopers, stationed at this out of the way police post, were able and willing to keep written records of their patrols and happenings at the station. Something that could not always be said of trooper Willshire.
The troopers got a belated Christmas present in 1871 when William Abbott and his team delivered 20 lbs of paint, 5 gallons of paint oil, 4 paint brushes, 8 gallons of kerosene, 100 lbs of whiting, 50 sets of horse shoes and the usual Aboriginal store such as blankets. They could now whitewash their station when they did not have anything else to do!!
Between 1871 and 1874 the troopers made regular visits to stations and mines. Among them were the Day and Stanley mines, Bolla Bollana, Yudanamutana, Sliding Rock and Blinman. Some of the stations included Umberatana, Illiawortina, Nepowie, Wooltana, Paralana, Hamilton, Blanchewater, Duck Pond, Patsy Springs and Angepena. When the station was short staffed in April 1873 James Spicer wrote to the Observer 'what great offence have we in the north committed against the power that be, that we are left without police protection'. He wanted to know what they were supposed to do when 'stuck up by the blacks' or if a man should die suddenly or get lost.
In March 1873 Whitbread left for the smelters at Bolla Bollana, to investigate a report of sly grog selling. After a lengthy trip on horseback and numerous interviews he had to report to his superior in Melrose that he had been unable to obtain sufficient information to make an arrest. Shortly after he resigned from the force and handed over to Police Trooper Porter on 29 August 1873.
At the post office the workload had also increased over the years. In 1874 H.Q Smith was the post master at £12 per year. In 1876 the office received 609 letters and a year later as many as 1183. Even so, the next year both the post office and police station were closed. Some of the last troopers to be stationed at Mount Freeling were Saxton, James Flynn and George Higgins.
Although the area had lost two important services, it gained some others. In 1879 Thomas Neaylon had started a line of coaches and a fortnightly mail run from Beltana to Innamincka via Leigh's Creek, Mount Lyndhurst, Yaralina, Mount Freeling and Blanchewater. In 1881 Samuel Hill obtained a butcher's licence and started an Eating House which catered for the passengers and all other travellers.
Early in 1884 Inspector B.C. Besley at Port Augusta requested the Commissioner of Police to reopen the police station. He agreed and troopers Cahill and J.H. James were appointed to man the station. Even though major repairs had to be made to the building, James was able to take his wife with him. For the next ten years the station was run by one trooper only and finally closed in 1894 when Mounted Constable Jones was transferred to Waukaringa.
During these years, the area was often visited by prospectors, hoping to find indications of copper, silver or even gold. When the Mount Freeling Hotel was opened even more people made an effort to call in. During 1890 there were rumours that the mail run would be changed. Mungerannie Station would like the mail coaches to call in at its station rather than at Mount Freeling. Naturally many of the 'locals' thought 'that very unreasonable'. They soon had a petition organised and by August it was signed by as many as 50 teamsters, hotelkeepers, contractors, prospectors and miners.
A Broken Hill mining company, operating mines in the Freeling area, wrote to the South Australian authorities that 'we are sanguine that Mount Freeling will be one of the largest mining centres in South Australia in a very short time'. It worked and on 27 September 1890 it was decided to leave the mail run as it was. For a while business, especially at the hotel was good. In 1893 Joseph Martyr had the licence and later Robert Brooker Smith. When J.H. Edwards had the licence in 1896 business have fallen sharply and he dismantled the hotel and rebuild it at Lyndhurst. After that it became, and remained, very quiet at Mount Freeling.